The Toronto International Film Festival kicks off Thursday at a time when few, if any, Oscar contenders have emerged so far.
Festival director Noah Cowan estimated that this year's lineup contains about 40 movies with Oscar potential, as well as 10 likely candidates for US acquisition and another 10 prestige titles likely to find international buyers.
Although organizers insist that Toronto isn't a market, the festival boasts 31 "priority press screenings." Only buyers and a select number of media members with a soon-to-be-coveted "P" on their badges are allowed into these showings until 15 minutes before they start, when the gates are thrown open for the masses.
Films on the list include Tom McCarthy's The Visitor, Paolo Barzman's Emotional Arithmetic and Hans Weingartner's Reclaim Your Brain, as well as several others that already have domestic distribution.
Many buyers are downplaying the list of available titles at Toronto, but some of these buyers said the same thing before Sundance -- where big checks suddenly began flying for foreign films with no stars.
Buyers also are aware this year that even the hottest Toronto titles don't often translate into box office success. For every Thank You for Smoking that hits big, there's a huge bidding war for such titles as El Cantante or Trust the Man that end up not taking off.
This year, the titles on everyone's lips are predictably the ones with star power both behind and in front of the camera. All buyers seem to want to see Six Feet Under creator Alan Ball's directorial debut Nothing Is Private, starring Aaron Eckhart, Toni Collette and Maria Bello, which is based on the Gulf War memoir Towelhead.
Vadim Perelman's In Bloom, starring Uma Thurman and Evan Rachel Wood, also is generating interest, as are "Bill," starring Eckhart and Jessica Alba, and Battle in Seattle, featuring an all-star ensemble led by Charlize Theron.
Underdogs generating buzz include Weingartner's German-language drama Reclaim Your Brain, Santosh Sivan's culture-clash drama Before the Rains, Nick Broomfield's Iraq War drama Battle for Haditha and McCarthy's Visitor. The opening-night film, Canadian filmmaker Jeremy Podeswa's Holocaust drama Fugitive Pieces, has been screening for U.S. buyers since midsummer.
In the wake of such successful documentaries as An Inconvenient Truth and Sicko, the documentary market is heating up -- even though most never make it into the $20 million territory that those two did. Still, some of the hotter titles are Werner Herzog's adventure Encounters at the End of the World; Trumbo, a star-filled portrait of blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo; Iraq veteran documentary Body of War (co-directed by talk-show host Phil Donahue, with music by Eddie Vedder); Parvez Sharma's gay Muslim study A Jihad for Love; and Scott Hicks' Philip Glass biopic Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts.